More Artistic Talent . . . 



 By Michael Novak

            I was impressed but not convinced when a young actress 

who graduated from the University of Dallas – which some think 

has been the premier Catholic campus in America – visited Ave 

Maria the other day, and reported on a blog that she saw Ave 

students give a Shakespeare performance better than any other 

she had seen on the stage anywhere, and she had seen scores of 

them, and acted in some. She wrote that only in Dallas, she had 

thought, was there such spirit and talent and school élan. The “As 

You Like it” at Ave, she wrote, gave Ave theatre a leapfrog to the 


            Now among the smaller Catholic campuses vying to be “the 

best” there is a considerable rivalry for bragging rights in any area 

whatever.  Dallas, Steubenville, Christendom, Aquinas in LA, 

Belmont Abbey, and the newest kid on the block, Ave Maria, each 

tend to think they are the best. (Competition in this and in much 

else is mutually strengthening. It is a blessing to have wonderful 


            Last night it was my turn to see the show, and I am still 

exhilarated. The actors and actresses came from a single class, 

          Michael Novak

Michael Novak is an American Catholic author, philosopher, and theologian. He received the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.  For a complete biography and list of publications, visit  

Professor Travis Curtright’s, in 

Shakespearean Performance. The cast 

simply adapted a large classroom into a 

“Theater in the Round” (well, three sides). 

They wrote and adapted their own music, 

in the spirit of the play, while the audience 

assembled, during the intermission, and 

(not a little) throughout the play.  

Marvelous music, sprightly, with some 

haunting new love songs familiar to the 

students in the audience (but not to me), 

who joyfully sang along.  The music, 

arranged by Philip Barrows of Frederick, 

Md. (a veteran of high school musical comedies, like several 

others in the cast, plus a few from big city Children’s Theaters), 

was emblematic of the performance – it was developed by the 

students in their own idiom and their marvelous talents (male 

and female) for flirtation with the audience.

            Somehow the cast made Shakespeare’s their own language 

– it was their own private language, not a Shakespearian recital of 

clever lines. Their emotions were invested in their own memories 

and instincts. They played the twenty-somethings in the text as 

themselves, with their own loves, thrills, frustrations, deceptions. 

It wasn’t Shakespeare, it was themselves. And they were very 

compelling and vivacious persons.

            My wife Karen and I had season tickets to the Shakespeare 

Theater in Washington, D.C., for thirty years, so I suppose we saw 

about 150 performances. There were only a handful that we did 

not enjoy – a bit heavy-handed in their messaging. We came from 

nearly all thrilled, even ennobled.

"Somehow the cast made 

Shakespeare’s their own 

language – it was their own 

private language, not a 

Shakespearean recital of 

clever lines. Their emotions 

were invested in their own 

memories and instincts."


           However thrilling many of them were, I can’t recall any 

that struck me with such immediacy, spontaneity, sheer 

youthful joy and romance, as came alive last night in that 

hastily arranged classroom space. It was, I imagined, not a 

little like some of the spaces Shakespeare once used, at 

Blackfriars, for instance.

            The professionals in Washington – and delightful the 

repertory players have been – seemed always to play their parts 

so well. Here the students used Shakespeare to release 

themselves. I suspect that some of the girls – the lovely Rosalind, 

for instance – had had no idea before that she could be so 

flamboyantly flirtatious and so overcome with glee (pumping her 

feet up and down and letting her arms break forth with cheer, 

before resuming normal voice) at hearing her beloved say (when 

he still thought her a boy) how he loved Rosalind.

            Over at the pub afterwards, thronged for a boisterous 

Senior Night, another faculty member and I were still feeling the 

exhilaration hours afterward. And it was a joy to see the actors 

and actresses now at the Pub, back in the normal proletarian 

dress which college students assume these days (shorts of frayed 

jeans, tank tops, for the guys undershirts over workout muscle).

            When you consider that in our School of Sacred Music, in 

its associated choirs, singing groups, and glee club over two 

hundred of Ave’s current 750 on-campus students participate. 

And when you hear the singers and guitarists and flautists play at 

the Pub’s open-mic “Saturday Nights Live” and - oy vey! - its 

comedians, the amazement does filter over you about the artistic 

talents in this student body. It is stunning.

© C3 2012